Can songs really save lives?
You tell me. In this clip from our I Can Only Imagine Series, Bart Millard tells the harrowing story of a soldier on the brink of suicide:
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What most struck me about Bart’s story was how sincerely he balked at the idea that he was some kind of hero. He’s got an unbelievable story to tell, but he knows that story’s ultimately not his. The ways Imagine has touched millions of lives have infinitely more to do with God’s grace than with Bart’s ability to rhyme.
He’s right. The stories Bart tells and the songs he sings are part of a much bigger plan. More like a divine drama in which God comes to rescue His wayward people.
But, of course, every good drama needs a soundtrack.
Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs
When Paul wrote to the believers at Colossae, he was concerned for their spiritual well-being. ‘Plausible arguments (Col. 2:4)’ threatened to lure his friends away from the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that laid hidden for them in Christ (2:3).
The freedom they enjoyed was under assault (2:8). The philosophical and religious sensibilities of the age carried “the appearance of wisdom,” but in reality, they invited a hopeless regression toward the Colossians’ former life in the flesh (2:18-23).
But, that’s not who you are, Paul reminds them. You’ve put off that old body of flesh (2:11). You were dead in sin and “the uncircumcision of your flesh,” but God forgave your sins and made you alive in Christ (2:13). So, don’t live according to the flesh, my dear Colossians. Instead, seek the things that are above (3:1-4). Put to death the earthliness that is within you (3:5-9). Put on the new self, the one that God is actively renewing after His image (3:10).
Here, there’s neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, “but Christ is all, and in all” (3:11). That makes this act of inward renovation a community project—the building up of a holy people marked by compassion, kindness, meekness, patience, mutual forbearance, forgiveness, harmony, and peace (3:12-15).
It wasn’t enough, however, to describe what the church should look like; Paul had to tell them what it should sound like, as well. The Christian community is the one where Christ’s Word dwells richly, not in silent meditation, but in wise teaching and admonishment. More than that, it’s a holy assembly in which “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” fill the air as God’s people respond to Him in thankfulness for what He’s done (3:16-17).
Did you catch that?
God has invited us to grow into the newness of life He’s given in Christ, not alone, but in the company of other believers. And, He’s shown us a powerful way to do that: SONG.
What’d That Look Like for Paul?
This guidance wasn’t just lovely advice from Paul. It was his way of life.
In Acts 16, we find Paul and Silas locked up in a jail cell. Its midnight, the two men are half-naked and bloodied from the beating they received earlier that day. Their feet are pinned down by massive metal stocks (22-25). Nevertheless, they’re praying and singing hymns to God (25). You can imagine the perplexion amongst their fellow prisoners; if the God Paul sang to were the real God, surely he wouldn’t be in this place.
Suddenly, Paul and Silas are cut off by the roar of a massive earthquake. As the prison convulses violently, the cell doors fling open, and each prisoner’s bonds fall to the ground (26). The jailer wakes up in horror. Had all the prisoners had gone free on his watch? He’s a military man—likely a retired Roman soldier—so he knows there will be hell to pay from his superiors. In a panic, he takes out his sword to kill himself (27).
Before he can do it, Paul cries out to him: “We’re still here!” (27). Stunned, the jailer falls before Paul and Silas in awe. Who is this God to whom they were singing? What has He done to these men that they would choose not to escape (29)? There’s something in them, something abiding and true. The jailer has to know whether what they have is enough to spare him from the wrath that was to come (30).
“What must I do to be saved?”
“And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.” (Acts 16:31–33, ESV)
How to Save a Life
On that night, Paul and Silas merely gave voice to the healthy habit of praise that marked their lives. They lived out what Paul was talking about in Colossians 3. And, as a result, their songs joined up into a real groundswell of divine power that led to salvation for the Philippian jailer and his family.
This is Bart Millard’s story, only transposed into an ancient key: the middle of the night, a spiritual song of hope, a metaphorical groundswell of divine power, a soldier ready to turn his weapon in on himself, dramatic salvation.
This is what happens when Christians sing. People get a hint of what it means for the Lord to rejoice over them with singing (Zeph. 3:17), and they can’t help but ask for more.
If we are in Christ, then God has called us to a new way of living by His Spirit. He’s replaced our hearts of stone (Ezek. 36:26) and invited us to express our gratitude in joyful song. May our songs be the gift we offer Him and each other—the fruit of lips that acknowledge Jesus’ holy name (Heb. 13:15).
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